In today’s time when we are fighting over what is national and what is anti-national, here comes a story paying tribute to what is the core of all our existence, the humanity. True patriotism is when you make your country proud on the global front because of your actions. And this is what Neerja Bhanot’s life teaches us.
This is an incredible and inspiring biopic of the PanAm Air Hostess, Neerja who dies while saving the passengers from the Palestine terrorists who hijack the flight in Karachi in a bid to get their demands approved. She could have easily turned her back and run away from the ill-fated flight. However, she stood her ground and helped in saving a total of 359 lives out of the 370 on board. This is the story of doing your duty by keeping your fears at bay, of selflessness and of coming out victorious in times of adversity.
The best thing about the movie is it does not over dramatize the entire situation. Except for one or two instances, the film seems real and you feel that you are a part of the entire ordeal. The opening sequence introduces the Bhanots as a loving family and intercuts between them lovingly fussing around their laado as they fondly call Neerja and the preparation of the terrorists for the attack.
The atmosphere of dread and terror is created right when the terrorists hijack the plane, showing no sign of resistance, frightening the passengers and crew. However, Neerja alerts the pilots and they run away, thus foiling their plan of flying to another country. She shows her strong presence of mind and courage and along with the PanAm crew brings back the passengers to safety. From concealing the American passports to trying to negotiate with the hysterical hijackers, she tries it all and finally dies while shielding the children from their bullets.
Usually, the hijack movies see their end by a physical superhero finding his way through the odds. However, Neerja is a story of conviction and heroism by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Neerja, as a character, is a mix of professionalism and effervescence. There are times when she is scared and is cowed into submission. There are tears and fears, but she does not allow them to win over her spirit. At such times, the flashbacks of her abusive marriage and the teachings of her father is what helps her stay motivated. She is not shown as a superwoman. Instead, she is an everyday woman who loves Rajesh Khanna, is cheerful but is still scared to give a second chance to love (Shekhar Rajwani).
It is shattering to see the coffin of your young child and Yogendra Tikku and Shabana Azmi play the role of concerned parents to the T. Sonam Kapoor in the lead role is good in major portions and Khalil, one of the hijackers played by Jim Sarabh looks like a terror psychopath. The other passengers on the flight are not mere furniture and are utilized effectively. However, the other terrorists are flat. At times, Sonam looks blank, especially when she sings Mere Sapno ki Rani and at one point, there seems to be an overdose of Rajesh Khanna fangirling.
Cinematographer Mitesh Marchandani captures the anxiety and fear with jerky pans and Aparna Sud, the Production designer excels in recreating PanAm. Director, Ram Madhvani along with Saiwyn Quadras, the writer transport us back to 1986 is the very PanAM flight. You start feeling claustrophobic right in your seat in the theater. Overall the larger emotional sentiment overpowers the minimal flaws of the movie.
Without a doubt, Neerja is one such movie that will leave a huge lump in your throat. It is as gripping as it is poignant and is a touching tribute to the real life hero. In one of the scenes, the mother tells her sons not to cry and that Neerja will return and the film just does that. The movie brings the spirit of Neerja alive forever and her story of valor is what shall inspire the coming generations.